One year ago, the GoClimate team set our climate resolutions for 2020 – personal challenges, because for us saving the climate is more than a job, it’s a life mission. This is an overwhelming task, and therefore setting a specific goal to a specific time frame makes it all more approachable. Now we have another new year ahead of us to make better habits for the future!
One of my resolutions for 2020 was to participate in twice as many climate strikes compared to 2019. And then Covid19 happened. For 2021, my resolution will be “Spread the word” – to talk more about the climate crisis and the climate action I am taking via social media and with my friends in order to hopefully inspire others to take action.
My new year’s resolution for this year was to stay on the ground and not travel by plane. It was easier than I had expected and it reduced my carbon footprint with 3.19 tonnes compared to 2019. For 2021, my climate commitment is to move one step closer to a vegan diet. I have been a vegetarian for 10+ years, and for next year my intention is to only eat egg/dairy products when they are served by someone else. That means, at home and at restaurants/cafes I will always choose vegan, but if I’m invited to a dinner I will accept vegetarian food. Curious to see what challenges this will bring me and how I can handle that!
I wish all climate actions came as easy to me as sticking to a vegan diet and not driving a fossil-fuelled car, but staying on the ground is a huge challenge to me. It breaks my heart on a regular basis that catching a flight to London, which I consider my second home, is no longer an option for me as I simply can’t justify the harm it causes the planet. My resolution for 2021 is to look closer into climate friendly alternatives to flying, rather than giving long-distance traveling up altogether (which has been the situation in 2020, needless to say). I’m excited to look in to options by road and rail and aim to make the actual travelling a fun part of the experience too, making it an adventure rather than just a transfer.
My new years resolution for 2021 is to think long-term with all of my purchases. I will only purchase brand-new products if I’m confident I will get at least 5 years of good use out of them.
For 2020, my new year’s resolution was to not buy any new clothes nor electronic devices. I aim to keep that going for the full year of 2021 as well.
I’ll continue sticking to my vegetarian diet, plus avoiding dairy. I will also make sure to cut out beef and lamb when feeding my dog (who’s moving in with Emma in January, welcome to the GoClimate family little one). Whenever I feel the need to buy new items, I make a list of what it is that I “need”. I then give it a week or two before asking myself if I still want or need it? If the answer is still a yes, I research if there are any other ways to achieve what it is that I crave other than making a purchase – perhaps renting or borrowing? Or can it at least be bought second hand? If buying a newly produced item is the only option, I compare alternatives and chose the one with the seemingly lowest climate impact.
Note: This is a personal story from team member Stefan
I just recently moved out of the city and to a town in the mountains of Sweden. Having always before been able to use public transportation, I found myself in a place where I now need a car to get around, while also being fully out of reach of any car sharing services. This is my story of researching reasonably priced alternatives for getting a car with the least possible climate footprint.
If you are able to use car sharing services or public transportation, you should always consider not owning a car at all. If not, read on to learn a few surprising facts that make getting a brand new electric car more reasonable than you’d think.
Requirements and options
I knew from the outset that the long-term goal was to get an electric car. I just didn’t know if our fincancial situation would support this right away. My partner and I make good money, but not by any means enough that we can afford to freely just lease or buy any car. We do, however, have the ability to increase our loans at a reasonable interest rate to be able to pay for a new car, provided that the purchase doesn’t turn into the money sink that new car purchases traditionally are.
We are looking for a car that works for typical usage. We’ll be driving both short distances and long. It’s going to be our only car. So what we end up with has to:
Have range enough to be workable on long journeys.
Be big enough that we can bring outdoors gear like skis and big backpacks on trips.
Getting into specifics, I looked into three categories of cars to consider:
Fully electric cars, new from dealerships.
Plug-in hybrid cars, second hand.
For comparison and as a last resort, lower priced regular gasoline cars, second hand.
The reason that second hand fully electric cars are not on this is that they’re very close in price to brand new cars (more on that later), and by going for a new car we would have the ability to get a tow bar that we can mount a bike rack on. If you don’t need a tow bar, there is a (small) market of second hand fully electric cars with long range (350 km/220 miles or longer). If you’re able to get one of those, you can make the financials for electric cars later in this post even better.
Plug-in hybrid cars
My initial thought was that plug-in hybrid cars would be the most reasonable option while waiting for fully electric cars to come down in price. But after looking into it, two factors make them less attractive than one would think.
First, if you regularly drive longer than the battery lasts (usually around 30-40 km/20-25 miles), you end up with a very thirsty car. Most plug-in hybrids are very heavy cars and have fuel consumption upwards of 10 l/100 km (as low as 25 mpg) after the battery depletes. For all but the very shortest trips, this defeats the fuel savings of having a battery.
Second, these cars are basically two cars in one that both need maintenance. In terms of maintenance cost, they are are, if anything, more expensive to keep running than even traditional combustion cars.
If you’re able to charge at home, drive almost exclusively within the short battery range and are strictly limited in purchase price, then maybe a plug-in hybrid car be a good option. Otherwise, I have a hard time justifying them as a way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. For us, getting an efficient combustion or non-plug-in hybrid car, would actually have been a better choice.
Brand new electric cars
Fully electric cars used to be crazy expensive, but this is fast changing. For sale right now with 350 km/220 miles of range or more in the most affordable price range are three models: the Kia e-Soul, Kia e-Niro, and Hyundai Kona Electric. Available for order this year and with delivery dates within a year you’ll also find the Volkswagen ID.3 and Skoda Enyaq iV.
All of these sell for around €45,000 (in Europe), but a few insights helped me realize this relatively high price isn’t as bad as it seems:
Many countries have government grants when buying new electric cars. In Sweden, the grant is about €5,800.
Maintenance, vehicle/road taxes, and, most strikingly, driving costs are way lower for electric cars.
Value depreciation is, as mentioned earlier, not at all as bad as with non-electric cars, especially when taking government grants into account. For the models I looked at, one year old cars with above average milage were selling for just around €5,000 – €7,000 lower than the brand new price after grants. This reasonably gets much better (on a monthly basis) if you keep the car for 2 or 3 years, but there are no numbers for that as all these models initially went for sale just last year.
So let’s look at the numbers. All figures are yearly costs in Sweden converted to Euros. I’ve used the best sources I could find, trying to find actual maintenance costs from current owners and quoting insurance for these models for myself.
New Hyundai Kona Electric
Second hand Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (2017)
Second hand Opel Astra (2015)
Using the average yearly milage in Sweden of 15,000 km per year.
These calculations assume 50% usage on battery for the plug-in hybrid.
Electricity costs of 0.2 Euros/kWh.
At this point, before financing, we’re looking at a monthly cost of €81 for the fully electric car, as compared to €161 for the plug-in hybrid and €195 for the combustion car.
So you’ll have €114/month extra to put towards financing of the more expensive electric car. Even though this is better than one might think already, chances are that the €114 won’t be enough regardless of how you choose to finance the car. Which brings me to…
How to make the car free
More and more people want to drive electric and more and more people are looking to car sharing services to replace car ownership. So for those of us who have to own a car, let’s contribute to the other side of that equation and make our cars available for others to rent. Renters will look to the cheap-to-drive and climate friendly electric cars, and owners of those cars can use that income to bridge the cost gap compared to traditional cars.
Looking at the two big options available in Sweden, Snappcar and GoMore (also available in a number of other European countries), you can expect around €300-400/month for renting your car a few times each month. Together with the €100+/month you’re saving in driving costs, you’re now looking at upwards of €500/month in combined savings and income that can be put towards financing of the car. This sealed the deal for us, because depending on how much we rent the car out, we actually have a decent chance of having the car pay for itself entirely.
On top of that, we’re now helping others reduce their carbon footprints in addition to reducing our own.
If you have spent more time online than usual lately – you are not alone! Especially streaming has had almost exponential growth, as our consumption patterns of movies and series has been revolutionized by online services. Have you ever wondered if all the hours on Netflix actually have a carbon footprint? We dig into the details!
Powering the internet uses a massive amount of energy, from the remote data centers all the way to the power of the device that you are reading this on. The scope of it makes it incredibly challenging to calculate, and even when we do, the numbers are almost too large to grasp – the carbon footprint of YouTube has been estimated to 10 000 000 tonnes CO2e. What can be said is that the internet is currently responsible for 2 percent of global carbon emissions, and this is because 80% of the energy used to run it comes from fossil fuels. This is basically the same amount as the emissions from the aviation sector! But let’s not forget, this also has to be put into perspective of the emissions that are avoided elsewhere – all the physical letters not sent thanks to emails and online bank services, just to give an example (although we all could probably reduce the number of emails we send and receive!).
Let’s start by saying that the carbon footprint of streaming is lower than driving to the cinema to watch a film there. This is not an argument to make people stop streaming, but to understand how our small actions add up to a big impact and that we should take responsibility – both for our own behavior, but also to encourage providers to do everything in their power to optimize operations.
A French think tank called the Shift Project first made some pretty horrifying calculations on this, estimating that watching 30 min of Netflix is equivalent to 1,6 kg of CO2 emissions. However, it seems like they based it on some wrong assumptions, as George Kamiya, Digital/Energy Analyst at the International Energy Association points out. According to his calculations and official IEA data, streaming a Netflix video in 2019 typically consumed 0.12-0.24kWh of electricity per hour, which is between 25 and 53 times less than the Shift Project estimation. So if we use the emission factor for the global average energy mix, that would give a carbon footprint of 0,028 – 0,057 kg (28 – 57 grams) CO2e for a 30 min Netflix session. Less than the carbon footprint of a banana!
So, it’s not actually that bad to watch Netflix (or, sending one email). However, we should consider how much traffic we generate, because it really does add up. Don’t leave things on in the background. If you listen to music, do so from a program that only gives you the music, and not the video stream (yeah, playing YouTube on another tab than the one you are watching is wasteful!). Pause videos that start just because you are scrolling on a page. Unsubscribe from all the newsletters that you don’t read anyway.
But more importantly, we need to make better IT design. How can we optimize data transfers? Do we need to send as much as we do? It will be both faster, cheaper and better for the environment if we can implement sustainable interaction design! Researchers from Bristol University suggested that digital waste could be reduced if YouTube stopped playing the video when the window isn’t open – and that this could save up to 500 000 tonnes of CO2e per year! And streamlining solutions like this one could potentially be found anywhere, helping us all to keep emissions from digitalization under control.
Do you work in IT? Could you design better systems to slim down the quantities of data that are being sent across the internet? Exciting challenges ahead of you!
In the sustainability movement, we are a dedicated bunch who choose to complicate our lives out of the conviction that it is necessary to make the world a better place. Then, we try to make the non-believers join us by convincing them that it’s fun and easy, and you save money too! Right?! It is an appealing narrative and there is definitely truth to it, but we who try to break new ground also get exhausted from walking through a jungle of resistance.
My old laptop was giving up on me. I had bought it in 2013, and have carried it across continents, literally. It had worked in the heat in southern Africa, in the hights of the Andean mountains and in the dampness of Brussels. I had already replaced the screen (I bought a replacement on Amazon and had my friend perform surgery on it for hours) and exchanged the battery once, but I could no longer resuscitate it.
I was offered to buy a Macbook second hand from a friend, some nine months ago. And he had told me there was some issue with the keyboard but he also gave me a discount to account for that. So I paid 2500 sek (approx 250 usd) for the computer, knowing that a repair could add another 2000 sek (200 usd). I was happy to have found a second hand computer, knowing that the production and mining for minerals is a dirty business that I don’t want to support if I can avoid it. Sure, the computer was old, but in good condition and given that I am not a heavy user, I thought I’d be fine.
When I started working for GoClimate a few months later, they asked me if I needed a computer. But as I had just gotten the Macbook, what was the point of buying another one? That would totally defy my purpose of trying to save resources.
I was fine, for a little while. Then, the number buttons stopped working. Given that a lot of my work is done in Excel, this became a big hindrance. I prayed that it would go away, but of course it didn’t and I had to hand it in for service. It took them some 10 days, but they exchanged some parts and charged me 2280 sek (230 usd) and I thought, ok, now I’m fine. Except the problem came back the following week and now I’m being charged another 2200 sek (220 usd) to replace another part. Adding it up, it’s costing almost as much as a new Macbook, and I am now on my third week of working on a borrowed laptop that is… far from ideal.
About a year ago, I broke my beloved Kindle reading tablet. Living abroad, I used it a lot to read books I couldn’t get hold of in store. I still spent 6 months trying to figure out if I could fix it (warranty expired), if it was worth ordering a new screen from Hong Kong, if I could buy a second hand one (the guy in the sales group ghosted me when I asked too many questions so I’m guessing it might have been stolen)… In then end, I found that Amazon actually sells refurbished items. I ordered one from there but since they don’t ship to Sweden, I had it sent to a friend in the UK. Once I could pick it up, turns out the model I had ordered (the only one available) is older than the one I was used to and it has no back light, which seriously reduces the usability for me… so I actually read less now than I did before.
All of this leaves me with frustration and a bitter taste. I wish I did not have to deal with this, but electronics have become a necessity in society. My argument to keep pushing for this is that I genuinely believe that to make the world a better place, it is my duty to act in accordance with my values especially when it is uncomfortable. Change is not just gonna happen, someone has to do it. Someone has to create a demand for those second hand products, for the replacement parts, for the service centers. I’m that someone.
So now that my phone is becoming too tired to handle new apps, and I have spent the winter in Stockholm freezing my fingers off waiting for the maps to load, I’m searching for a second hand one. I’m hopeful about the Swedish company Inrego who sells second hand, refurbished electronics, and I’m consulting my tech-savvy colleague. Because that is who I am – the hippie eco-warrior who choose discomfort to live in harmony with my values and the hope to make the world a better place. Please join me.
British Dictionary definitions for planned obsolescence:
“The policy of deliberately limiting the life of a product in order to encourage the purchaser to replace it: Also called: built-in obsolescence.“
THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE
This kind of planned obsolescence is of using physical material that will break or deteriorate faster than other options.
An example of this in electronics is for producers to purposely choose to use cheap plastic or soft metals that have a shorter lifespan than other alternatives and therefore making the product less durable.
Prevention of repair
This a well known planned obsolescence used by for example Apple, where it’s hard to repair or change battery, where you need special tools to even unscrew the screws used in the devices making it even harder for customers to repair themselves.
When the products are made difficult to impossible to repair yourself, it is often cheaper to buy a new product than to pay a specialist to repair it.
Batteries is one of the most common pieces of electronics that are prevented to be repaired. While the design of phones for example can be thinner when the battery is placed in a way to be irreplaceable, making the phone itself stuck with an aging battery and therefor losing it’s quality while the rest of the phone is still fully functioning.
The lowered battery performance is often one of the main reasons people feel the need to renew to a new phone, since getting a new battery isn’t a choice, and in many cases if it is replaces the warranty of the product can be lost.
This is an obsolescence where consumers are made to think their product is no longer desirable or that it is old and out of fashion.
This is very common in fast fashion but also in the technology business, especially when in comes to mobile phones. Releasing new models once or more a year, with slightly better software or slightly different design quickly makes your new phone several seasons old.
This technique is to systematically make a product obsolete by altering systems or functions that won’t work with the older products.
Such as no longer being able to maintain or where the manufacturer stop supporting the systems.
New software updates that don’t work on older models or where old software programs don’t work on newer models as deliberate choice by the manufacturers.
Another example is where they remove their service to repair products of a certain age, and this is typically a problem with products that are designed not to be repaired by the consumer. Like with a built in battery for example.
However, luckily there are third parties who offer their service to repair most type of technology.
This is a very lucrative kind of obsolescence, where the products are programmed to stop functioning after a certain amount of uses. Such as x hours of use or x amount of printed papers on a printer.
Obsolescence by depletion
This example is where the products rely on secondary consumables.
One of the most common examples of this is the toners for printers that seem to come in an infinite amount of shapes. The manufacturers stop producing ink/toners for printer models after a certain amount of time, making it harder to find toners for your specific printer with time. Ending up creating a need to get an entirely new printer.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO COMBAT PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE?
France has recently taken strong measures against planned obsolescence, and businessmen will be liable to prison sentences and companies will be liable to fines of up to €300,000 if these kinds of practices are found to be performed.
Demand longer warranties for the products and spare parts guaranteed.
Recycle our electronic waste properly and demand manufacturers eliminate dangerous substances contained in these products.
Support those brands who are creating products that are made to last.
Don’t buy new. Go for second hand and vote with your dollars that you do not want to take part in this environmentally destructive business plan.
FOR MORE POSTS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ELECTRONICS:
Do you get a new phone when your old one breaks, is beyond repair or just because you want to update to a more modern one?
What do you do with your old phone, laptop or other electronics when they no longer serve you purpose? Do they stay tucked in a drawer somewhere in the house, do you sell it, throw it away or recycle it?
Did you know thatelectronics contains valuable materials like gold, copper, silver and palladium? As well a lot of metals and materials that are harmful for people, animals and the environment?
When electronic products come to the end of their life, they become waste. Electronic waste.
In 2016, around 45 millions tons of electronics were thrown away.
But what happens to the product once it’s discarded of, or preferably recycled?
“E-Waste is a term used to cover items of all types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by the owner as waste without the intention of re-use.”
WHERE DOES THE E-WASTE GO?
There’s a big chance it is shipped off to or dumped in Guiyu, China or Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Some people do run proper businesses recycling the e-waste that is shipped there according to agreements but in many cases, especially in Ghana a lot of the e-waste is illegally dumped there.
In the EU it is illegal to export e-waste to developing countries, and yet a lot of it does end up in these places anyways.
The way it is illegally imported is in disguise as used electronics (for second hand use) but the shipments are filled with or mixed with irreparable e-waste instead.
HOW IS THE WASTE HANDLED AND BY WHOM
In many places where e-waste ends up, it is poorly paid locals who disassemble the electronic waste, often in unsafe ways using toxic chemicals to separate the valuable components.
Many parts of the waste are also being burned, releasing heavy metals like lead, beryllium and cadmium which pollutes the soil, water and air.
While there are known health risks from dealing with lead and mercury, there has been little research on the effects on health and the environment with many of the other elements used in electronics.
But even when e-waste is recycled in safer conditions in countries like Australia, there’s still a high environmental cost from the industrial smelting.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO MAKE IT BETTER
The first step in making the life cycle of electronics safer and more sustainable, is to make sure the working electronics you have are being used by you or someone else, to make the need for new electronics smaller and to repair what can be fixed.
The second step is to recycle the electronics that are irreparable, and to make sure it is going to a certified e-recycling facility. When recycled, the components that normally takes mining to retrieve can be reused and therefore save resources and some pollution that comes with the mining. If you want to read an in-detail guide to the recycling of electronics, PCLiquidations offers great advice with a specific focus on the US market.
The third step is to stop changing your electronics before they are beyond repair. The cost of electronics is a lot higher than the price you pay in money.
OTHER POSTS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ELECTRONICS: